"Are we going to stand back and allow Saddam Hussein
to continue developing Weapons of Mass Destruction?"
Bill Richardson February 11, 1998
Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow United Nations weapons inspectors access to numerous sites has resulted in a dangerous game of brinksmanship between the U.S. and Iraq. Margaret Warner talks with U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson about the latest developments in the Iraqi crisis.
MARGARET WARNER: And we are joined now by Bill Richardson, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr. Ambassador, today the deputy prime minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, said that U.N.--the U.N. could inspect eight presidential sites. Why did the president reject that offer?
Iraq's latest offer.
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, because it’s another sham. It’s another propaganda move. A lot of problems with that proposal. First of all, Tariz Aziz’s proposal precludes the U.N. inspection team, UNSCOM, Amb. Butler, the rightful investigators, under Security Council resolutions, from doing this work. Secondly, Iraq has failed to define presidential sites. They’re playing games about what is a presidential site, what constitutes one, where is it, and thirdly, and probably most absurd, the Iraqis claim they don’t even have the maps for these presidential sites. So once again, it’s a shell game. It’s another example of Iraqi obfuscation, of trying to buy time, of trying to divide the Security Council, and so this is why we very firmly reject it. It’s a nothing proposal.
MARGARET WARNER: Why is it so important which U.N. personnel inspect these sites?
BILL RICHARDSON: Because under U.N. Security Council resolutions it’s the U.N. inspectors even from resolutions in the Gulf War, 687, very clearly state that the U.N. inspection team, UNSCOM, U.N. special commission, must conduct these inspections. I mean, here’s an organization that has destroyed 48,000 chemical weapons, more weapons than were rained on Iraq since the Gulf War. This is the team that has the basis of its responsibility from the U.N. Security Council resolution. To all of a sudden find some political experts that Iraq finds acceptable and that are not accredited, that are not professional, that undermine the integrity of UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team, is totally unacceptable and ludicrous.
MARGARET WARNER: If the objective here--and I know it is the objective--is to restrain or end Saddam Hussein’s ability to make these weapons of mass destruction, what gets us closer to that, though, looking at least at these eight sites, or bombing them?
BILL RICHARDSON: What gets us closer is free, unfettered access, unconditional access to all sites, including these presidential sites, by qualified U.N. inspectors. If you start differentiating who’s going to do the sites, Tariq Aziz also said they can come in for a certain period of time, a one-shot inspection deal; that they have to end within 60 days. These are additional unacceptable conditions that undermine the integrity of the U.N. inspection team and make a laughing stock of all these U.N. resolutions that we’ve passed that say that the U.N. inspection team’s charter is to destroy some of these weapons, find out where they are. The Iraqis have a long history of finding ways to hide the chemical and biological weapons. And they’re doing it once again. It’s once again part of their shell game, their propaganda efforts that simply are not getting much support.
MARGARET WARNER: Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general, has said that both the U.S. and Iraq need to be more flexible, need to get unstuck from their public rhetoric. I mean, what’s your response to that?
Amb. Richardson: "We favor diplomatic solution too, but we say time is running out."
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, we have a lot of respect for the secretary general, and he is--like many others--like the Russians, like the French, like the Arab League--they’re trying to find a diplomatic solution. We favor diplomatic solution too, but we say time is running out. Everybody is trying and the Iraqis are still stonewalling. I think what the secretary general wants to do--like any secretary general--he doesn’t want a military confrontation. But at the same time what we want to make sure of is that there be full respect for U.N. Security Council resolutions; that if the secretary general does get involved, that there be an adherence to resolutions that the U.N. has passed over the years that have two fundamental objectives, two fundamental legal bases: one, free, unfettered access to all sites by the U.N. inspection team unconditionally, sites and documents; and No. 2 and most importantly, to ensure the full professionalism and integrity of the U.N. inspection team, of UNSCOM. That means not having politicians on it; that means not having so-called experts from country X because the Americans and the British have too many. I mean, 17 percent of the U.N. inspection team is American. That’s not an overwhelming presence. There are over 40 countries represented, and what Iraq is doing is trying to show that this is a fight between Iraq and the United States when, in effect, Iraq is defying the international community. So we support the secretary general’s efforts to try to resolve this matter, but we have to make it clear that it has to be consistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions, and we’re not going to be a party to any deals or compromises that undermine U.N. Security Council resolutions.
MARGARET WARNER: So you don’t feel that Kofi Annan is in a way equating the U.S. and Iraq as both being kind of in the grip of extreme positions?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I’ve met with him twice today, and I don’t think there’s any animosity or daylight between us. There may be an effort on his part to try to reconcile differences, and we’ve laid down our position. The British have laid down their position, which is very close to ours. And a lot of other countries within the U.N. Security Council--I visited eight, Margaret, in the last few days--and all of these eight countries that are not the permanent five countries--these are the Costa Ricas, the Brazils, the Portugals, the Swedens--feel very strongly that U.N. Security Council resolutions and that Iraqis’ lack of compliance are the problem.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me just read you one other thing Kofi Annan said which was in a BBC radio interview. I think it was yesterday or today--and he’s speaking about the Iraqis. He said, "They painted themselves into a corner, and we need to work with them to get them to back down. But I think we should not insist on humiliating them." Is the U.S. out to humiliate Saddam, to force him to back down publicly, to give him no face saving way out of this?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, we don’t want to humiliate anybody. This is not a game of humiliation. This is--this is getting him to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. What does face saving mean? Does that mean that we cut a deal so that some of the palaces that contain a poison gas and mustard gas are excluded from inspection? We’re not going to go along with that. We think this man is a threat to the international community, and he threatens a lot of the neighbors in his region and future generations there with anthrax and VX. So we’re not going to cut a deal that appears to mollify him or make him look good. We just want to have full adherence to Security Council resolutions. That’s what we want. We don’t want to give humiliation to Saddam Hussein. But he’s the one that humiliates the international community by forgetting about Security Council resolutions, by sending envoys back empty-handed, by playing political shell games, and having propaganda, and sending kids, and mothers into potential sites where they might get bombed. Or right now the ultimate--the ultimate cynicism--Iraq is refusing to go along with the secretary general’s plan to provide more food and medicine for the Iraqi people. They’ve rejected that. So they’re playing games, and they should not be accommodated.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you one thing that goes to really how the American public may be feeling about this. Last night Jim did a discussion with four members of Congress including Cynthia McKinney. And she said, you know, is this really going--worth going to war over, and she said, we ought to be working with Kofi Annan to find a more "flexible response." The reason I asked you this is that the overnight mail to our web site--she got a lot of support from viewers. And I’m just wondering if that surprises you and how do you explain that?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, Margaret, we want a diplomatic solution. I mean, look at the record. This started in late October. We’ve had five Security Council resolutions, many that we’ve sponsored to try to resolve this peacefully. There’s been special envoys from the U.N.. The Russians, the French, the Arab Leagues, the Turks, they’re all pushing special initiatives that we have supported. We want this to succeed. Now, it reaches a point where you have to say, are we going to stand back and allow Saddam Hussein to get his way and continue developing these weapons of mass destruction, continue to threaten his neighbor, continue to gas the Kurds, continue to gas the Iranians, continue to be a threat to Israel, or are we going to simply say enough?" I think American credibility is on the line, and if we’re not going to resolve this diplomatically, which we have tried, this is why the President has the military option on the table.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And so what kind of a timetable do you think we’re looking at now for military action?
Mr. Richardson: "Time is running out for Saddam Hussein."
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, we’re not getting into artificial deadlines, but we want to see this resolved. Our standard answer is we’re not talking about days or months. So I think anybody can draw a conclusion from that. Time is running out for Saddam Hussein. The only deadline that exists right now is his. He is the one that can end this right away.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, very much.
BILL RICHARDSON: Thanks, Margaret.
Copyright © 2004 MacNeil/Lehrer Productions.
All Rights Reserved.